The City of Franklin has announced the settlement of a lawsuit with the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in regards to the confederate monument on the square in downtown Franklin. It was determined at the July 14 Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting that the UDC owned the monument and the land directly underneath the monument. All other land surrounding the monument is the property of the City of Franklin.
Timeline of the UDC Lawsuit
Officials in Charlottesville, Virginia voted to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from a city park in 2017. This resulted in a “Unite the Right” rally, in which many were injured and a counter protestor, Heather Heyer, was killed. After that incident, questions were raised across the South regarding existing Confederate monuments. In Franklin, several citizens, including local clergy and historians got together for a peaceful candlelight vigil.
At this time, three local pastors (Chris Williamson, Kevin Riggs and Hewitt Sawyers), and the City’s Battlefield Historian Eric Jacobson began to discuss a way to tell the fuller story of Franklin, a different path than monument removal. The mission was to tell the African American side of the civil war history and aftermath, and to better educate citizens and visitors, and include everyone in the history that is shared in our City.
Their idea became known as “The Fuller Story” and included putting educational markers near the monument and around the square depicting the African American experience before and after the Battle of Franklin and erecting a bronze statue of a US Colored Troop (USCT) Soldier.
At a Board Meeting on Sept 25, 2018 regarding the project, an attorney for the UDC came forward to object to the markers being put on the square, because he claimed the UDC owned the square and the markers should be placed somewhere else. The confederate monument was placed on the Square in 1899. Although no deed has ever been found, there are court minutes from 1899 that state that the UDC would be granted ownership of property on square from the placement of a monument. The UDC dedicated the Confederate Monument on the 35th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1899.
The UDC threatened to sue the city if the markers were put in place. In response, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen immediately filed a declaratory judgement regarding ownership of the Franklin square. The City’s stance was the monument was owned by the UDC, but the land around the monument was owned and maintained by the City and the City was free to erect “The Fuller Story” markers.
In October of 2019, while the lawsuit was still pending, the City placed five “Fuller Story” markers on the City square. In June of this year, the Battle of Franklin Trust and the Fuller Story organizers announce that the fund-raising goal for the USCT statue had been reached. The goal of $150,000 was raised entirely through private funds.
As the UDC lawsuit comes to a close, the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County (AAHS) has released a statement regarding Franklin’s Confederate Monument. The AAHS believes that the story of Franklin’s Confederate Monument has not been fully nor accurately told.
Their full statement reads:
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, as well as countless others, and the subsequent focus on racial justice issues throughout Williamson County and the nation this summer have brought Franklin’s Confederate monument into the public’s attention once again. Opinions about whether the Monument should stay or be moved to another location are as varied as the diverse population in Williamson County.
Sentiments among members of the board of the AAHS reflect that variety. Likewise, we recognize that the AAHS represents just one of the many voices in Williamson County.
However, the board of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County does agree that as a community Franklin can do more to tell the “whole history” regarding the Monument. The Fuller Story’s addition of interpretive panels and forthcoming US Colored Troop statue on and around the Public Square has and will go a long way toward recounting our collective history in general. Nevertheless, we can and should do more to address the Confederate Monument itself, the history it tells, and the message it depicts. The motto of the AAHS is that we have “A Story to Tell.” Every person, building, and even Monument in the County has a story to tell. But the story of the Confederate Monument has not been fully nor accurately told. Rather than being allowed to stand in silent commemoration to the Lost Cause, we need to place the Monument in its proper historical context with a prominent permanent bronze marker that thoroughly explains the history behind its origin.
We hold that rather than subtracting monuments, Franklin should add to the stories and memories that Williamson County shares and elevates. This measure would be a start toward making Williamson County’s history complete. It is time that we told the whole story.